UFC President Dana White has revealed that Nate Diaz was Conor McGregor’s preferred opponent for UFC 196 following the withdrawal of Rafael dos Anjos.
With the Brazilian set miss the spectacle with an injury, the UFC announced on Tuesday night that Diaz would be dos Anjos' replacement for the March 5 bout in Las Vegas. White revealed there was a substantial shortlist, which included former lightweight champions BJ Penn and Anthony Pettis, but he felt that Diaz was ultimately the best match.
“We figured that this would be the most exciting fight,” said White on SportsCenter (via Fancy MMA, h/t The 42). “It’s the fight that Conor really wanted. A lot of people wanted to fight Conor McGregor, but Diaz wanted the fight and we felt that this was the fight to make.”
Let me tell you, there was a long list of people that said they wanted the chance to fight Conor McGregor. We called Jose Aldo, Jose Aldo turned the fight down. We called Frankie Edgar, Frankie Edgar turned the fight down. Those were two guys that everybody was talking about. Those two [were] out of the way.
We called ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. [He] absolutely accepted the fight, would love to take the fight. BJ Penn wanted the fight, Anthony Pettis wanted the fight, a lot of people wanted this fight. But we ended up with Nate Diaz. We felt this was the fight to make and the fight that the fans wanted to see.
The decision to use Diaz as the replacement for McGregor has certainly helped MMA fans get over the disappointment of dos Anjos’ withdrawal.
The fight was initially anticipated to be staged at lightweight, but it will now be a welterweight tussle, which means McGregor is jumping up two weight classes to face Diaz. Additionally, both men are upright in their fighting style, meaning those watching around the world should be treated to something of a slugfest.
As reported by MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani, it seems as though the groundwork for this fight has been ongoing for a while now:
They went w/ RDA/history for obvious reasons but Diaz was super close to getting it. Hence the trip to LV. Worked out for him and then some.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) February 24, 2016
While the choice of Diaz has gone down well in the main, some of the other names on the list would have made for intriguing choices, especially Penn, who has not been in action since a loss to Frankie Edgar in 2014.
When McGregor was set to fight dos Anjos, a win would have seen him join Penn and Randy Couture as the only men to win titles in two different weight classes. The Irishman would have been the first in the company’s history to hold two at the same time, though.
Additionally, Pettis would have also been a fascinating opponent, and as a skilled striker, the fight would have made for an absorbing main event. Former UFC middleweight Brian Stann feels as though that’s a bout which would have also made sense:
Personally I would also love to watch Pettis vs McGregor, don’t think Pettis gets the call but that style matchup is fun— Brian Stann (@BrianStann) February 23, 2016
It’s no surprise Jose Aldo rejected the chance to go up against McGregor given he was knocked out by the featherweight champion at UFC 194 in 13 seconds. Edgar would have made for a great scrap at featherweight, but given McGregor will be well into his cut for lightweight at this juncture, that prospect always seemed unlikely.
As noted by ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, it’s unfortunate for Edgar, who is said to be carrying an injury, given he has been making a significant push for the featherweight title:
If there's one thing we've learned today, it's that Frankie Edgar is truly cursed. He was on short list to replace, but dealing with injury.— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) February 23, 2016
The calibre of names who were reportedly willing to take this fight on at short notice is a testament to the pulling power of the Irishman. At the moment, McGregor is the sport's biggest star. Even with little time to prepare, the chance to face him and beat him is a major incentive for some of these competitors. Especially for someone like Diaz, who is a character that seems to be made for the big stage.
While McGregor’s movement and agility in the cage will make him the favourite, The Notorious is taking a massive step up in weight. The American, therefore, will fancy his chances of halting his opponent's momentum and pushing himself closer to the summit of the sport.